Last Updated: February 16, 2024, 12:13 pm by TRUiC Team

How to Find Members for Your CSA

One reason that farmers choose to run a CSA is so that they don’t have to worry so much about finding a sales outlet during the growing season when they’d rather be focused on growing food. Nevertheless, it’s important not to underestimate the need for good marketing. Recruiting CSA members can be difficult, especially during the first few years, and retaining membership requires excellent customer service and clear communication.

Recommended: Read our 5 step guide to starting a CSA written by a successful startup CSA owner.

Woman working in a plot of lettuces

According to surveys from the Small Farm Success Project, CSAs have to replace, on average, 55% of their shareholders every year. Let’s explore some of the ways for finding members and keeping them for the long run.

Finding Your First 10 Members

It’s a good idea to start small with your CSA, especially if you’re a beginner farmer. CSAs require a large variety of products in every box, and It takes some experience to get your timing right so that you always have a consistent supply of variegated CSA boxes throughout the season. A good goal for your first season is 10-20 members. This is a manageable size of membership for a beginner while still providing substantial supplemental income.

The best place to start when recruiting CSA members is your immediate friends and family members. Even if they aren’t personally interested, they may know others who would want to join your CSA.

You can also market your CSA through existing communities you’re a part of — religious communities, social clubs, home-school groups, or large businesses with employee demographics that match your target market. When you’re starting out, word of mouth marketing will be your best method for membership recruitment. Once you get some initial members, don’t hesitate to ask them if they know a friend or two who might be interested in signing up. Also, let your first few members know where you’re at. Tell them about your experience and that you're just starting out. This will make your core supporters want to help out by telling others about your CSA, and it will help members be more understanding as you come up against unforeseen challenges and refine your process.

Defining Your Target Market

The demographics of CSA shareholders in the United States will show that generally speaking, they are mostly women between the age of 30 and 50 who live in urban/suburban areas, who already eat organic food, and who want to support small farms. This shouldn’t limit you in terms of who you can recruit, but it’s useful information to have when developing a marketing plan. 

You also want to find out who is your ‘ideal customer’. This goes a little deeper than demographics. In general, you want members who:

  • Will stick around year after year
  • Are easy to deal with and not too finicky
  • Get excited at the prospect of community engagement in the CSA
  • Will talk about and promote your farm to others.

Take the time to sit down and write about your own ideal customer on paper. Eventually, you will have to be more selective about membership if people try to use your CSA in a way that you aren’t prepared for; for instance, demanding only certain types of produce or requesting other types of unusual exceptions.

Creating an Online Presence

Having an online platform for informing and educating your potential and existing CSA members is vital for success. Start with a website that includes general information about your CSA. At a minimum, you’ll want to include:

  • How your CSA works. What a CSA is, how long your season runs, how members will get their boxes, etc.
  • CSA membership pricing. Membership fees, accepted payment methods, box size, etc.
  • Produce availability throughout the season. What vegetables, herbs, etc. members can expect throughout the different months.
  • How to sign up. You can have an online sign-up, process sign-ups over the phone, invite curious community members to come to visit your farm in person, or a combination of all three.

In addition, a web page is also a good place to educate and train members on the guidelines and rules of your CSA. And you can always include extras like recipes, stories from the farm, an online shop where members can purchase CSA merchandise or other products you have for sale, and so on.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram are invaluable sources of free marketing. Make the website your hub for information about the CSA and build a social media presence around it. Some of your members might not check their email often enough to see your newsletter, but perhaps they spend a lot of time on Facebook or other social platforms. You can post a link to your newsletter or share general updates on your Facebook business page and reach more people. These platforms are also a great place to get exposure for your business and recruit new members.

Retaining Members

Once you have a core group of members, you’ll want to nurture that relationship. This begins with clear communication. Let’s look at a few ways you can keep members involved:

Talk to Your Members

Talk with your members about their boxes. Ask them what they like about it, and what they don’t like. It may turn out that most of your members didn’t like receiving kohlrabi in every box for 25 weeks in a row. By asking your members for their input, you can gather a lot of useful information to refine your CSA experience.

Talking to members on a regular basis is also a great way to find out how people are using the vegetables. This information can then be shared with other members, either in the form of simple tips or complete recipes.

Write a Weekly Newsletter

Writing a weekly newsletter is a great way of letting members know what's going on on the farm. This newsletter can be simple and short. In it, make a list of the different vegetables included in this week’s box. You can also include a written update from the farm to help members feel connected. Recipes also make great content in the newsletter and can include links back to your CSA website.

Send Out an Annual Survey

Another good practice is sending out surveys at the end of the season to find out how satisfied members were overall and what changes (if any) they’d like to see for the next season. That way you can consider new improvements for things like your crop selection, distribution model, membership engagement, etc.

In Conclusion

Maintaining happy CSA members requires outstanding customer service. This doesn’t mean you have to go above and beyond in every circumstance; you have to be reasonable with yourself. But when your membership is still small, it’s a great opportunity to create customer loyalty by giving personal attention to each and every member. Remember that these initial members will be your marketing platform for finding new members in future seasons. If you can create a good reputation for yourself from the beginning, this will be greatly beneficial in the long run.

The main thing is to try to create a sense of community among your members. Some great ways to accomplish this includes: having a weekly newsletter, hosting regular events on your farm, and offering volunteer and work-share opportunities.